Journalists are producing more hours of news, serving more platforms and trying to appeal to an ever-shrinking audience while supported by smaller, less experienced staff. The amount of time a journalist commits to researching story ideas may directly correlate to how long she has to wait for her morning espresso or how long — and well — she can multitask while walking to work.
The challenge for the PR person is to cut through the clutter so that a busy, distracted newsperson actually reads your pitch. Here are six tips:
Brevity is your BFF
Journalists receive a lot of pitches. One key to get them to read yours is to make it short. Pitches should be attention-getting and bottom-lined. If reporters open an email and see a screen full of text, they’ll move on to something they actually have time to read.
Relay the news “hook” or specific angle off the top. Don’t think you can offer a lot of information and journalists will find a story somewhere in there. They don’t have the time. Topical, day-of is the best way to go.
Offer interviews and visuals
Make the story turnkey for the reporter or producer and it’s much more likely to be added to a rundown or selected for coverage. Have a big window where interviewees are available to talk. Reporters don’t like pitching a story, getting it approved and then learning it’s not doable today because the expert you put forward isn’t available.
The power of key words
TV stations pay consultants a lot of money to come in and preach the power of key words. They actually test these in qualitative and quantitative studies. Reporters and producers are trained to value and seek the following: “new this morning,” “new information,” “following up on a story we first brought you at five,” “this just in,” and the holy grail, “breaking news.” These words will get journalists’ attention, and they’ll feel good about including your story in their show.
Differentiate your pitch
You’ve heard how many pitches journalists receive every day. Make yours stand out. Be creative and use anything that applies: colorful graphics, salacious copy, unbelievable headlines. Your first goal is to get the journalist to read your pitch.
Most newsrooms have skeleton staff working morning and late shifts. That means huge news holes — think six hours, starting at 4 a.m. — with not a lot of fresh content to fill it. By timing your pitch so it lands in their inbox in the very early hours or late afternoon, your story may be just what a journalist hungry for “new” needs.
Make your pitch as powerful as possible and cater to the convenience of the journalist. You’ll be rewarded in coverage.
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Stacey Grimsrud is a news executive and media strategist with more than 20 years of experience. A former television news consultant, she spent years advising broadcast stations on best practices, news programming and talent coaching.